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Chinatown SRO tenants sue landlord, allege discrimination, coercion

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A postal worker delivers mail to an SRO at 1350 Stockton St. in Chinatown. Representatives from the Chinatown Community Development Center and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus helped the building’s tenants file a lawsuit against the landlord this week. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Low-income residents of a Chinatown SRO who say their landlord is attempting to push them out in favor of more lucrative tenants filed a lawsuit this week.

The lawsuit filed Monday by the Asian Law Caucus on behalf of a group of tenants at 1350 Stockton St. alleges “unlawful intimidation, coercion, discrimination and harassment designed to pressure these long-term tenants out of their homes in pursuit of profit” on the part of Valstock Management.

San Francisco-based Valstock Ventures, LLC, has owned the Stockton Street building since 2000, but began managing it in Fall 2016.

Tenants at that time began receiving $200 fines for hanging their laundry out to dry, which was never an issue with the previous landlord, according to the lawsuit.

Hui Zhen Hu, a 72-year-old tenant, said that the chief of operations for the management company, Kelvin Yee, threw her clothes that were hanging to dry into the dumpster and she had to dig through thrown away food to get them out.

“Regardless of what they (Valstock) say their intentions are, tenants are currently being hurt by their bad policies and that’s what we really need to fix right now,” said Katherine Chu, a housing rights attorney with the Asian Law Caucus.

Most of the 100 tenants in the single residency occupancy building are seniors, have limited knowledge of English and are low-income Chinese immigrants

The property owner has also put up notices and 40-page lease agreements in English only and told the mostly Chinese-speaking tenants that if they do not understand English they need to speak to an attorney, the Asian Law Caucus said.

“For a long time there were no issues communicating with the tenants and Valstock hasn’t lost the ability to communicate with the tenants in Cantonese,” said Jessamyn Edra, a housing rights attorney at the Asian Law Caucus. “They have employees at their office who do speak Cantonese but choose not to be responsive to the questions and have in some instances just walked away when they have questions.”

A lot of the tenants rely on social security income to pay their rents.They make about $800 each month from social security benefits and their rents are controlled around $500-$600 each month, the Chinatown Community Development Center.

An 80 square-foot studio apartment in the building, with no bathroom or kitchen, is going for $1,050 per month on the Valstock Management’s website as of Tuesday afternoon.

“At stake here is definitely more than just a single unit in this building, it is about what this community looks like,” Edra said.

Valstock Management declined to comment.

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